Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles has attempted to backtrack from fellow Labor MP Penny Wong’s comments surrounding a rethink of the Australia-US alliance.
On Wednesday, Ms Wong told Fairfax the recent election of Donald Trump marked a pertinent time to “face the possibility of a very different world and a very different America”.
She said the immediate and warm congratulations offered to President-elect Trump by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reminded her of former PM Tony Abbott’s “chest-beating approach”, and that Australia needed to concentrate on its future with Asia.
Mr Turnbull said Ms Wong’s comments highlighted a deep divide with Labor on the issue of Australia-US relations.
“You have Penny Wong wanting to move away from our most trusted, most enduring ally … (and) put our country at risk,” he told media on Wednesday.
“On the other hand you have the right of the (Labor) party trying to back away from where she has gone – Labor is hopelessly divided on national security and border protection.”
But according to Mr Marles, Ms Wong’s comments expressed a deep commitment to what will soon be Trump’s America.
“As Senator Wong said very clearly in her piece, we remain committed to the US alliance,” he told The New Daily on Wednesday.
“It is a critical aspect of Australia’s foreign and security policy with longstanding and continued bipartisan support.”
He said the election of billionaire Trump, a shock to many inside and outside the US, presented “a crucial time for us to advocate our national interest” with the superpower.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Ms Wong’s comments belied not only a divide within Labor, but a “strong anti-American sentiment within [Labor], the Greens and the union movement”.
“The United States is Australia’s major strategic ally, largest foreign investor, second-largest trading partner and an important guarantor and defender,” she told The New Daily.
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said Mr Trump had indicated the alliance would continue strongly, and labelled former prime minister Paul Keating’s recent calls for Australia to “cut the tag” with the US “bizarre”.
“It should come as no surprise to him that friends and allies with a similar heritage will share a similar view on most issues,” he said.
“There is a deep mutual respect between our two nations and I believe it will be business as usual.”
‘It is not business as usual’: Senator McKim
At the news Donald Trump had easily beaten establishment favourite Hillary Clinton to the White House, unprepared Australian MPs were reminded of less-than-complimentary labels they had offered the Republican.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne and Minister for Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg had respectively called Mr Trump “barking mad”, “terrifying” and a “drop kick” before his surprise win.
One MP who did not shy away from attacking the President-elect was Greens Senator Nick McKim, who told Parliament that Australia “could not commit to being best friends with America under a Trump presidency”.
Watch Senator McKim’s speech below:
“Remember – this is a man who was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan,” Senator McKim said, arguing that Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam and Iraq wars had been a disaster.
“We can no longer simply lock in behind the US like a sycophantic little brother or sister.”